1941 Nazi Christmas party

// From some LIFE photos of a Nazi Christmas party of 1941, we can see that this party must have been the worst ever.

December 1941 was not a good time for Adolf Hitler — and you can see it on his face in these remarkable color photos taken by his official photographer, Hugo Jaeger. The war was supposed to have been over by this point — but the Russian campaign was turning into a fiasco and the Americans had now entered into the fray. Adolf, it would appear, was having a hard time getting into some Christmas cheer.
The pictures are definitely surreal — and even a bit pathetic. While he was setting the world ablaze, Hitler organized a Christmas party for his generals in Munich. Earlier that spring, when the Russian campaign was launched, he had promised everyone that the war would be over by Christmas. Instead, he had to spend it with his generals while contemplating an uncertain future.
The photos were part of an enormous stash of color transparencies made by Hitler's personal photographer, Hugo Jaeger, and buried in glass jars on the outskirts of Munich in 1945, near the war's end. Advancing Allied forces had almost discovered the pictures during an earlier search of a house where Jaeger was staying (a bottle of cognac on top of the transparencies distracted the troops), and Jaeger — justifiably terrified that the photos would serve as evidence of his own ardent Nazism — cached them in the ground. A decade later, he exhumed the pictures; 10 years after that, he sold them to LIFE, which published a handful in 1970.
The caption accompanying the one frame from the Christmas party that was published by LIFE in April 1970 offers a possible explanation for Hitler's glum expression in that photo (3rd photo):
"In 1941, Hitler gave this Christmas party for his generals. Though he dominated his officers and came to despise them, Hitler never felt socially at ease with them — they had better backgrounds and education. He never invited them to dinner, aware that they looked down on the old comrades he liked to have around."
As for the religious views of Hitler himself, the evidence is conflicting: In public statements he sometimes praised Christianity (once calling it "the foundation of our national morality"), but in private conversations — including one recalled by the Third Reich's official architect, Albert Speer — the Führer is said to have abhorred the faith for what he deemed its "meekness and flabbiness." Hitler did, however, fervently worship one thing above all else: the so-called Aryan race. And by the time Hugo Jaeger took the photos seen here, Hitler and Heinrich Himmler, commanding general of the SS, had articulated and launched their plan for creating a "master" race — via, in large part, the mass murder of Europe's Jews and other "undesirables": the "Final Solution".
But how could Nazi leaders reconcile an ideology of hatred and conquest with the joyous spirit of the holiday — much less its celebration of the birth of the Jewish Christ?
"We cannot accept that a German Christmas tree has anything to do with a crib in a manger in Bethlehem. It is inconceivable for us that Christmas and all its deep soulful content is the product of an oriental religion."
Those were words of Nazi propagandist Friedrich Rehm in 1937, arguing that “real” Germans should remove any vestiges of “oriental” religion from the holiday by harking back to the pagan Yule, an ancient Northern European festival of the winter solstice.
But by the time Hitler, Mussolini and the Japanese had dragged the Allies into the Second World War, the Reich’s focus had shifted to more practical matters. Rather than trying to dissuade millions of Germans from celebrating Christmas the way they had for generations, Hitler, Goebbels and the rest instead encouraged their compatriots to send cards and care packages to the troops.